How to Administer an Estate

In the period of time following the passing of a loved one, it can be difficult to know exactly how to proceed. This is especially true of following probate procedure and administering an estate, which can be a complex and lengthy task if there the decedent held many assets or claims are disputed.

Administering the estate in the correct manner is essential to ensure the wishes of the will are met, state and federal trust and estate laws are followed, and everyone receives their fair share of an inheritance. In this guide, we’ll talk you through the basic steps of probate and estate execution.

Appointing an Executor

The executor is the person tasked with dealing with the bulk of the estate administration. They will identify and catalog the deceased’s assets, pay off outstanding debts, finalize tax payments, and ensure distribution is in accordance with the will.

Choosing an executor is almost always the first step once the probate process has begun. If one has not been explicitly named in the will, then they will be chosen by the court. In most cases, the court-appointed executor will be the surviving spouse or closest relative.

the word probate on a stamp

The Next Steps

Once an executor has been appointed, it will be their duty to carry out the following steps. As probate law varies from state to state, the order and timing may vary slightly. In general, however, administration is carried out in the following order:

• Location of Assets – All assets, including real estate, money, stocks, and possessions must be recovered and inventoried. Note that some assets won’t go through probate, such as properties held in living trusts, joint bank accounts, life insurance payouts, and retirement funds with beneficiaries.
• Assessment of Value – The executor must then determine, usually through a third party, how much each asset was worth at the time of death. Many states require that this final inventory of assets be submitted to the court, along with how the values were reached.
• Notification of Creditors – All creditors of the decedent must be identified and notified to determine final debts owing. An advertisement in the newspaper is usually placed to alert creditors who would be otherwise unknown to the executor.
• Settlement of Debts and Taxes – All debts are paid off with the assets of the estate, liquidating physical property as necessary. Estate taxes will also be paid if required by the state.
• Finalization of Tax Returns – The executor will file a final tax return for the deceased, for their personal income during that year.
• Distribution of Estate – Finally, any remaining assets will be distributed to beneficiaries according to the will. Any assets left to minors may need to be placed in trust, which the executor will also have to oversee.

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Legal Complications

While attempts have been made to streamline estate administration—the most notable being the Uniform Probate Code—this process is not always as straightforward as it may seem. Difficulties can arise if:

• The will is contested
• The deceased is intestate (i.e., does not leave behind a will)
• Debts cannot be fully repaid
• The assets are especially complex or located in other states

Comprehensive estate planning is crucial to avoid these costly, time-consuming, and often emotionally taxing complications. Without the right estate attorney, there’s no guarantee that an estate will be handled the way it was intended to be.

Is your estate in the right hands? If you want to be sure, or if you have any questions about administering a loved one’s estate, you need an attorney who will put your needs first. Contact Joseph A. Ledwidge PC at (718) 276-6656 for a free phone consultation.

Estate Administration: Know What to Do When a Loved One Dies

The emotional turmoil of losing a loved one can make it difficult to focus on finalizing their affairs in the days and weeks that follow. Having a list can make it far easier to complete these probate administration tasks yourself, or divide them among other family members and close friends.

Senior father and his young son on a walk

Before Their Passing

As a relative or close friend, you need to know about their wishes. You should have important information such as funeral, burial, or cremation arrangements, as well as their preferences for organ donation and resuscitation. Knowing whether or not they have appointed a proxy or an advocate in the event that they’re unable to make medical decisions is also vital.

They should inform you about where all of their important documents and items are located. Life insurance policies; their will; keys to any safe deposit boxes; financial statements; and birth, marriage, or divorce certificates are all important items you’ll need to be able to find after they’ve passed away. Finally, they should have drawn up a will and given you a copy.

Immediately Following Their Passing

You will have to get an official pronouncement of your loved one’s death. If they died in the hospital, their doctor can accomplish this. If they died at home and were receiving hospice care, their nurse will be the one to call. If they died at home without hospice care, call 911 and be sure to have their DNR resuscitation document ready.

A Few Days After Their Passing

You’ll need to arrange for your loved one’s funeral and burial or cremation within a few days of their death. Review these estate planning documents and see if they prepaid for their funeral, burial, or cremation. If they were a military member or with a religious or another group, contact them to inquire about funeral services or burial benefits.

The Next Week to 10 Days After Their Passing

You’ll be gathering important documents from various locations in the next week or so. The funeral home can provide you with copies of their death certificate, which you’ll be sending to their insurance company, bank, and government agencies.

You’ll also need to bring your loved one’s will to their county or city office for probate acceptance. Their utility company, pension agency, social security, accountant, bank, and life insurance agent will also need to be contacted.

Couple having meeting with legal advisor

Talk to an Attorney

Even if you’ve completed all of the necessary steps correctly, the reality is that you can be held liable for not following your loved one’s wishes exactly as stated. Or, you may feel too overwhelmed by your loss to complete all of these necessary tasks yourself. Whatever your particular situation, an estate administration attorney can help you figure out what needs to be done.

The lawyers at Joseph A. Ledwidge, PC are strongly focused on probate and estate administration law. With a combined 32 years of experience, we can help you navigate the probate process. Your result matters to us; call (718) 276-6656 to arrange your consultation.

Probate vs. Non-Probate: What Is the Difference?

When a loved one has passed on, you will inevitably need to begin the work of settling their estate, which will involve going through the probate process with a Queens probate lawyer. In order to ensure your loved one’s property is distributed properly, it’s necessary to understand the difference between probate vs. non-probate assets.

Last Will Document and Fountain Pen

What Is Probate?

The probate process proves the validity of a will before a Surrogate’s Court in the county where the deceased was living. Once the court accepts the will, the assets contained in that will can be distributed. However, before this can happen, the relatives of the deceased need to be called to court and given the opportunity to contest the will with a New York probate attorney if they feel they were unfairly treated.

Probate Assets

Probate assets are those which are owned only by the deceased. These assets include items that are in their name alone, such as bank accounts, titled or held property, and life insurance policies.

Probate assets also include any interest the deceased may have had in a company, whether it was a limited liability, corporation, or partnership. Personal property such as automobiles, jewelry, and furniture are also considered to be probate assets by New York probate law.

Non-Probate Assets

Non-probate assets are those which are not solely in the deceased’s name. These assets include retirement, brokerage, and life insurance accounts which list a name other than the deceased’s as the beneficiary. Any property that’s held in a trust qualifies as a non-probate asset, as does property held in its entirety by tenants or in a joint tenancy.

A major difference between probate and non-probate assets is that the deceased’s will does not control how non-probate assets are distributed. Where the deceased has named one or more specific beneficiaries for non-probate items, those items will be distributed directly to these named individuals. Non-probate items without a named beneficiary may default to the estate of the deceased so that those assets can be distributed according to terms laid out in their will.

Probate Can Be a Complex Process

Unfortunately, the New York probate process sometimes becomes a difficult and complex process to navigate when family members contest the will of a loved one, or the settlement of a loved one’s assets places a significant financial burden on the executor.

Even jointly owned accounts can be challenged, which can complicate matters even further, not to mention cause division within the family. This can all add more negativity to an already difficult situation.

Handshake between attorneys and clients

With a strong focus on probate and estate administration law, the law offices of Joseph A. Ledwidge PC represent executors, fiduciaries, heirs, beneficiaries, and other interested parties. Possessing a combined 32 years of experience, our attorneys understand the value and importance of providing clients with attentive service and manageable fees.

Your result matters. If you need help navigating the New York probate process of a loved one, call (718) 276-6656 to be put in touch with an experienced Queens probate lawyer.